Sunday, January 7, 2018

Nicholas Jarrot Mansion, Illinois' Oldest Brick House with complete blueprints, Cahokia, Illinois. (1806)

One of the first historic landmarks to be considered when the Works Progress Administration (WPA) architects began work on the Historic American Buildings Survey in Illinois was the venerable Jarrot Mansion at Cahokia. There were numerous reasons for this, not the least of which is that the Jarrot Mansion is perhaps the oldest brick house in the upper Mississippi Valley. 
After measuring, sketching, and photographing the mansion, the architects drew detailed plans of it under the supervision of their director, Edgar E. Lundgren, for permanent preservation in the Library of Congress and in the architectural libraries of the Chicago Art Institute and the University of Illinois. This mansion was one of several hundred historic landmarks in all parts of the state that were recorded. 

When the building of this residence was begun in 1799, with workmen making all of its bricks on the spot, there was no state of Illinois. Cahokia, a thriving French town of log and frame houses, was then in the Northwest Territory, a territory established by the newly formed American republic. By the time the mansion was completed in 1806, the Illinois country was part of Indiana Territory. Later, when it became a state one of the numerous receptions to the first chief executive, Governor Shadrach Bond, was held in the Jarrot Mansion. A frequent visitor here before that time, and of afterward, was Ninian Edwards, governor of Illinois Territory, and the state's first United States senator. 
What brought these public officials, as well as many other leading citizens of Illinois' territorial days, to the Jarrot Mansion was the personality, influence and status of its master, Nicholas Jarrot. In the years after the mansion was completed, Jarrot reigned in it as a kind of feudal lord of Cahokia. He is said to have owned •twenty-five thousand acres of land, including the present site of East St. Louis. 

A native of Vesoul, France, where he was born in 1764, Nicholas Jarrot came to America in 1790, landing at Baltimore. After visiting New Orleans, he journeyed up the Mississippi River to the French settlements in Illinois. He purchased land at Cahokia in 1793, and four years later married Julia Beauvais (his second wife), daughter of a wealthy resident of Ste. Genevieve, across the Mississippi in Missouri. 

When the Jarrot Mansion was completed, it became the most admired dwelling in the region. Here, six Jarrot children were born and reared. One of them, Vital Jarrot, served in the Black Hawk War, was elected to the General Assembly, became part owner of the first railroad in Illinois, and established the first newspaper in East St. Louis. 

In the ballroom on the second floor of the Jarrot Mansion was held the first school in Cahokia. This was in 1809 when Jarrot persuaded a lawyer from Kentucky, Samuel Davidson, to give up his practice and become a schoolmaster, at a salary of $400 a year. 

Living almost next door to the Church of the Holy Family, the Jarrots were a devout couple and always the led the family procession to mass on Sundays and holy days. They were also a generous and hospitable couple, and balls, receptions, and dinners were frequent in their stately brick mansion. Here Nicholas Jarrot continued to live until his death in 1820. 

During the great Mississippi River flood of 1844, Mme. Jarrot and her family went to and from their home in skiffs, tying the boats to the railing of the stairway in the central reception hall. 

Although Cahokia declined rapidly with the rise of St. Louis and East St. Louis, the widowed Mme. Jarrot remained in her mansion for many years. But she left it finally and died in East St. Louis in 1875 at the age of ninety-five. 

Her daughter, Mrs. James L. Brackett, occupied the historic dwelling until her own death in 1886. Afterward, the house was occupied by nuns of the near-by Church of the Holy Family, a church which grew out of the first mission founded at Cahokia in 1699. 

The mansion is one of the few landmarks left in old Cahokia — which now is but a filling-station hamlet just south of East St. Louis. Despite its great age and the disturbances of earthquakes and floods, the house is in sound condition. On its rear wall can be seen a crack — a memento of the 1811 earthquake. 

It is a two‑story abode of red brick, designed in the Georgian Colonial style which is evident in the white columns of the portico and in the fan-light over the paneled walnut door. 

In many of the windows one can see the original hand-pressed panes imported from France. The gabled roof is covered with modern tiles. The foundation walls, composed of rough stone blocks, are two feet thick. One portion of the dark, stone-paved basement was used as a wine cellar and storage room, and another, containing a large crude fireplace, was evidently the kitchen where the Negroes did the family cooking. 
In recent years a handful of children, among them dark-eyed descendants of early French settlers of Cahokia, were taught here by black-cowled nuns from the Holy Family Church — just as children were taught in the ballroom of this mansion more than a hundred years again. 

The Jarrot Mansion was showing signs of considerable wear and tear when, recently, it was purchased by Oliver Lafayette Parks of East St. Louis who, after restoring it, converted it into a residence and guest house. Parks Air College occupies a large airfield near by.
Appreciating the historic value of his newly-acquired house, Mr. Parks commissioned the St. Louis architectural firm of Study, Farrar & Majers (working in collaboration with another architectural firm, Hoener & Hubbard) to restore it as nearly as possible to its original state. The result of their work is considered a fine example of early American architecture. 

Free PDF books in my Digital Research Library of Illinois History®

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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